Media’s Impact On Eating Disorders

The media has taken many years to develop. Newspapers were the first to reach a mass audience. These developed slowly because many countries feared the power of the press. In 1534 Unauthorised publications could have resulted in imprisonment or even death; the license requirement was not lifted until 1694 (Lee, 2017).

Radio surfaced as a mass media in the 1920’s, electronic media developed quicker, stemming from the growing popularity of mass entertainment and technological advances from development of the telegraph. It was then a worldwide race to add pictures. The television was considered one of the most important inventions of the twentieth century, this was in the 1940’s. Towards the last half of the century cable television and satellite communications developed. The most modern mass media is the internet, revolutionising communication (Lee, 2017). The media plays a big part of what influences society and their opinions and can create particular stereotypes and stigmas.

The mass media have been criticised many times for sexually objectifying the human body as this can have many detrimental effects on society. Traditional and modern media have both been recorded to have a focus on appearances in a sexualised way and ignoring personalities. This exposure to sexual objectification could theoretically result in various mental and physical health implications in media users.

When talking about self objectification this refers to the individual’s own perspective of their body. Potentially because of ideas from the media such as what is expected from them and beauty perspectives of what people look like, this internalises standards. (Vandenbosch and Eggermont, 2012).  The media can be seen as a guide especially for young women on how they should dress, what size they should be, what make up they should wear and overall what they should generally look like; resulting in them constantly monitoring what they look like to ensure they are up to society’s standards. Sexual objectification can occur through different types of media such as music videos, television, social networking sites, magazine and newspaper articles. We are constantly being influenced, often without even realising.  Research found that self objectification and body surveillance is the start of most mental health problems such as eating disorders, like anorexia. Many adolescent girls have reported visiting social network sites, watching television and reading fashion magazines on a regular basis. (Vandenbosch and Eggermont, 2012). Many girls are often known to get their inspirations from these influences.

The focus of this blog is on anorexia and how the media can influence people’s opinion on body image and what was is seen as the ‘perfect size’. Anorexia is a type of eating disorder where the individual will try and keep their body weight as low as possible if these continue this can often make them very ill.

Eating disorders are often misunderstood as they can be perceived as a lifestyle choice, however they are actually a very serious illness and can be fatal in some cases. They can be characterised by abnormal attitudes towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and their eating behaviour. There are many different types of eating disorders, these may encourage individuals to focus on their weight and shape, this can lead to them making unhealthy choices about food which results in damaging their health (NHS, 2015).  There are many people in our society who suffer from eating disorders, it is important that we catch the signs and symptoms early on in order to prevent these eating disorders from becoming life threatening.

Anorexia is a type of eating disorder which has many symptoms such as thinning of the bones, brittle hair and nails, dry/ yellowish skin, severe constipation, low blood pressure, mild anemia, damage to the structure and function of the heart and infertility. Also having a chronically inflamed sore throat and swollen salivary glands, jaw and neck area. Having worn tooth enamel and increase in sensitivity can be another symptom of anorexia as a result of exposure to too much stomach acid. Having acid reflux disorder/other gastrointestinal problems, severe dehydration can also be a symptom. (National institute of mental health, 2016). If there is suspicion around an individual developing anorexia it is important that these signs are highlighted and addressed as soon as possible, as if these continue to occur it can develop into further health problems for them.

Eating disorders occur in up to 3% of adults and young children in the population (Christopher, G, Et al, 2002).  This is a large number of our population and means that we need to understand what influences eating disorders to try and reduce these statistics. Parents/Carers are a big influence on a child’s behaviour pattern as they make the decisions right from when they are born such as if they breast or bottle feed, what time they feed and how big their portions are. Parents will continue to make their decisions as they go into childhood. This will involve them making decisions on what foods they give their child to try and what foods they don’t (Christopher, G, Et al, 2002).  This has a real impact on the child’s life as this will influence their meal sizes and times they eat as they grow up, this will also determine what they eat. Sometimes parents will also make the decision if they want their child to be a vegan or vegetarian, decisions like this are very important to their child and will impact on their lifestyle and eating patterns throughout their life. Parents will often also have input over what kind of media their child is exposed to as they often feel that the media can have a negative impact on them. Having said this, it is also important to note that parents are also influenced by the environment on their own eating patterns and their child’s. They are constantly being told by the media what they should and shouldn’t eat and how they can lose weight for example; as it is seen to be more socially acceptable if you are skinny in our society.


The modern media often represents the ‘perfect body’ image. Many feminists have argued that the medias obsession with slim pretty women creates problems for those women who do not fit into this small category.  As you can see the picture above represents thin female bodies, making it hard for the woman in society to imitate this ‘perfect image’, this can create a personal and social crisis. Leading to dissatisfaction which results in physical and mental health problems such as eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia (Lewis, 2015, 54). The Picture Above shows the advertisement for bra’s from Victoria’s secret, as you can see these models fill most of the page and the actual product that is being advertised does not even take up half of the page: drawing societies attention to the models and how they look (Victoria’s secret, 2018). Potentially impacting on individual’s self esteem and their self image as they will feel that this is the most important part of the product and that in order to buy and look good in this product they also need to look like that. This can make individuals feel that they are not good enough because they do not represent the same image as these models. This creates an unrealistic image of what the public feel they should look like.

Jean Baudrillard is a sociologist who argues that the mass media have generalised what he calls a simulation process and that we can never be sure of what is real and what is not. This is because of the media using signs to distribute meaning. In his argument he suggests a four stage process where the signs start off being real moving towards them having no relationship with reality (Baudrillard, 2006).  In the link I have shown above of the Victoria secret models it is clear to see how the ‘perfect body’ image portrays a hyperreality of the perfect woman, as these images will be edited and airbrushed so that they look perfect, but do not represent a real picture of these women. By doing this it makes it easy to see how the media can be linked to anorexia as creating the hyperrality of what women look like, makes it impossible for society to live up to these expectations, meaning that they would have to go to these extreme lengths such as developing anorexia to represent this image.


There are often assumptions that eating disorders such as anorexia only occur in women, however the media also impacts massively on the ‘perfect body’ image for a man. As you can see on the advertisement for the well known Calvin Klein boxers the model is male and is very toned and muscly, this can create a false assumption that men who do not look like this are not good enough (Calvin Klein, 2017). Like women this can also lead to physical and emotional strains on them as they will try to change their behaviour and attitudes towards food and their lifestyle in order to try and make themselves look how they feel society wants them to. Subconsciously the media is causing individuals to feel like this as they are unaware that they are surrounded by this ‘perfect body’ image displayed by the media.


Magazines as well as newspapers are known for exaggerating their headlines in order to capture the audience’s attention. ‘famous’ magazine have even been accused of photo shopping pictures that they have put on the front page for their magazine to be even more eye catching (Daily Star, 2014). For example, one of famous magazine headlines title was ‘you’re too fat for runway’ with pictures of Jenner Kendall showing cellulite on the backs of her leg. The front page also states that she has been ‘ordered’ (not asked) to lose 8KG when she is already a slim size 8 in these pictures. This shows how media can influence societies views and opinions, if someone so skinny and so pretty is still being criticised there is always this sense of not being good enough being created. By unrealistic body images impacting massively on vulnerable individuals this will encourage them to want to lose weight and try and look skinnier and prettier, which can result in the onset of anorexia and having further health implications.

The hyperdynamic needle media theory is a theory which suggests that the mass media influences society by ‘injecting’ them with images that are designed to trigger a response. This theory suggests that images are injected into the passive audience and immediately influence them by this message.  This theory also suggests that the audience are powerless and cannot resist the message that is being injected into them which makes the media quite dangerous without people realising. Suggesting the audience are getting stuck with the message and having no escape. Often because there is no other source of information people start believing what the media is presenting according to this theory (University of Twente, 2017).  In relation to the magazine article above the hyperdynamic theory would suggest that the media is injecting us with these images and ideas that having a bit of cellulite is unacceptable. By giving society this message this can impact on them as they will feel that they need to become skinny in order to live up to society’s expectations, this could make them want to lose weight and go onto potentially cause the onset of anorexia; especially young people who’s mind and bodies are still developing.

A study was carried by the model alliance researcher Sara Ziff with over 85 models from New York fashion week. She found that over 62% of models reported that that had been asked to lose weight by their agency or they would not receive any further work; even though they were already to be considered ‘underweight’ by the world health organisations standards (VOGUE, 2017). This shows that the models that are promoting this ‘perfect’ image are creating an unhealthy representation of what people should look like, therefore this can contribute to members of the public also feeling like they need to lose weight when they too might already be classed as underweight. This could help to promote health problems such as anorexia as individual’s are so desperate to represent this ‘perfect image’. Naomi Wolf carried out another study of the ‘beauty myth’ and she argues that the constant representation of attractive, thin, young women leads to an obsession with thinness, beauty products and services (Lewis, 2015, 54). These images support a multibillion dollar industry which contributes to the anxiety men and women face in society. Evidently the media has a huge impact on society and the influence of eating disorders such as anorexia.

Although there are many media representations that advertise the ‘perfect body’ image, there are also some advertisements that show the importance of unique bodies and everyone being different shapes and sizes.  Like the link for this  Dove advert for example (YouTube, 2016). This advert shows how Dove celebrated the unique shapes and sizes of beauty and sold their product in bottles that were different shapes and sizes, to show that its good to be different.


Baudrillard, J (2006) Simulacra and simulation. United States: The university of Michigan press.

Calvin Klein (2017) Calvin Klein. United Kingdom: CK Stores B.V.  Available from  [Accessed 02/01/18].

Christopher, G. Fairburn, Kelly D. Bronwell (eds.) (2002) Eating Disorders and Obesity, Second Edition. London: The Guilford press.

Daily Star (2014) Size 8 model Kendall Jenner fat-shamed over ‘cellulite’ thighs on runway. Express newspapers. Available from:   [Accessed 06/01/18].

Lee, l, T (2017) History and development of mass communications. Journalism and mass communication, Vol.1. Available from: [Accessed 02/01/18].

Lewis, B. and Lewis, J (2015) Health and communication, A media & cultural studies approach. China: Palgrave.

National institute of mental health (2016) Eating disorders. Available from: [Accessed 26/12/17].

NHS (2015) Eating disorders. Available from:  [Accessed 16/12/17].

University of Twente (2017) Hyperdynamic needle theory. Available from:   [Accessed 04/01/18].

Vandenbosch, L and Eggermont, S (2012) Understanding sexual objectification: A comprehensive approach towards media exposure and girl’s internalisation of beauty ideals, self objectification and body surveillance. Journal of Communication. (Volume 62, issue, 5, October) 869-887. Available from:  [Accessed/20/12/17].

Victoria’s secret (2018) Victoria’s secret. California: Victoria’s secret. Available from:  [Accessed 02/01/18].

VOGUE (2017) How Sara Ziff and more than 40 other models are leading charge against eating disorders. Available from:  [Accessed 02/01/18].

YouTube (2016) Dove – History.  Available from:  [Accessed 07/01/18].

Media’s Impact On Eating Disorders

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